Wednesday, November 8, 2017

From Tragedy to Gaming

On Monday, I had the opportunity to speak at a memorial for two students, majors in my department. One was a veteran with PTSD. He took his own life. The other, I already wrote about in my last post. I didn't know the former, Jay, but he was Marine Corps vet (like me), and, so, a brother of sorts. Summer, though, I got to talk about, and I got to express how very much we (faculty and students) miss her, how much I personally miss her. I told the students there that we faculty don't always get to say it, because of our peculiar relationship with them, but that we do care a lot about them. I hope my remarks were welcome. My colleagues seem to have appreciated them.

Summer's boyfriend was in the crowd, too. He told a fellow faculty member, afterward, that he'd been worried about being able to afford a funeral service for her, and that the memorial had helped to address that need, that it might be enough. I'm glad for him, and glad we could do that for him. I've been thinking, since it happened, about him (even though I didn't know him) and trying to imagine how it must be. Horrible, horrible shit. I can't imagine losing my wife, Carol. She's so very good, and I wouldn't be able to cope, I think. I'd be holed up in my house, curled up in a ball, crying. I'd be lost without her. So, it was good for us all to get together and acknowledge the depth of our loss (however relative), and to be physically and emotionally present with each other for the time we spent doing so. I was closure of a sort, I guess, but I'm still grieving. They will be grieving for a long time to come.

In the moments after the memorial, we met with surviving family/friends. I'm shitty at that. I know that nothing I can say is important. I went through the motions of thanking them for coming--the man who just buried his only son, and the man who suddenly lost the person he wanted to spend his life with--letting them know how glad I was that they could come. Then I just didn't know what else to say. What else was there to say? I even patted him on the back, and then, realizing I was doing so, I stepped away, awkwardly, feeling like it was so oddly formal and weird and stereotypical. I'd said stuff, but it wasn't worth saying on some level. It felt fake and forced. I wanted to do more, so I spoke again to Summer's boyfriend, Matt. I told him that if he needed someone to talk to, to vent to, about anything, I'd be there. I told him I know I don't know him, but that I would like to. I don't know why I had that impulse. I'm a good listener, sure, and I do want to help people (and him, especially, because his girlfriend was special and so must he be). So I told him I was there for him.

He sort of drew back from me, in a posture where he was hunched over and looking up at me very intensely, almost suspiciously, like I was maybe fucking with him. And why the hell not? Who the hell was I to presume so much, and what motivations might I have to offer that to him? I just looked back at him, making no move or reaction to the intensity of his stare, just accepting it and meeting his gaze in return. I guess what he saw was okay, so we talked.

He told me that Summer had recounted some of the things we'd done in my Advanced Public speaking class, last spring, and about the crazy role-playing elements. He revealed to me that he used to play D&D, too, had enjoyed it, that he missed it. I immediately knew that I had to ask him to play with me (even though I knew it was maybe too much to say on such short acquaintance and at the fucking memorial service. What. The. Fuck. Johnson.). But, because I'm just that kind of asshole, I made the offer to run a game. I told him that we get together and play in the afternoon and have beers and food after. To my surprise he said that sounded cool. Then he had out his phone, but I only realized what he was doing when he said, "What's your number?" So we exchanged contact info.

I started assembling a new gaming group the very next day. Some people are from my old group, the one that broke up when a new player hijacked two of my longtime regulars for his own game. I lost the heart to play with them, after that, feeling deeply betrayed. "I'm getting the band back together," I texted them. I also reached out to a player from my on-campus game. She was an awesome role-player, and just really cool. I've been missing that game and wanted to play with her again, too. She and my daughter are acquainted, as well, so that's nice. There's also another guy, an Army vet with a lot of combat time in the Middle East (and everything that goes with that). We met up a while back, when he texted my wife about a crisis he was dealing with, after one of his soldiers killed himself. I met him at a Waffle House and we talked for a few hours, about depression and the military, about our lives. Mostly I listened, but told him a bit about myself, too. We talked about DCC, of all things, and he also revealed that he'd play it, and might want to play again if I'd run a game...

I'm not a godly man, but I am superstitious in weird ways. In any case, I'm going to take this as a sign that it's time for me to get a group together. Maybe it will help some people to cope with the shit the world is throwing them. Maybe it will help me to deal with my own depression. I hope it works. It may be the height of arrogance to assume that any game I'd run would help anybody, with grief, with PTSD, with anything. But I want to do it, because it's basically the only damned thing I can think to offer, the only real reason I have to engage them. I do want to help, and I hope that, somehow, sitting with people at the table, playing games, shooting the shit, having some food and drink, and sharing physical and mental space with each other will help in some way, even if just on the days we can meet.

It's weird. I've been thinking a lot, lately, about my life and my connections with people. I have a bad history with maintaining relationships. I move away, or the friend does. I lose touch. They stop returning calls when I try to maintain that connection. I've had the same problem with family. It sometimes seems like it's just me and my wife and kid, really, and it's like I have no past. I wonder if I'm just broken on some level, that I can't form deep and abiding connections. Am I needy? Annoying? Not worth the trouble? Or is it just circumstance? Probably this is driving my urge to connect with these people, like I'm trying to redeem myself. I'm afraid I'm going to screw it up, because it's really just me being selfish. I feel like I'm doomed to screw it up, but I really, really hope that I don't. I hope I might make some friends who might be around for a while. These are good people, and I really hope I can do that. (Don't fuck it up, Johnson!)

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